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History After Hitler

A comprehensive account of how German and American historians after World War II tackled the question of the roots of National Socialism, History After Hitler traces the development of a transatlantic scholarly community as a key part of the intellectual history of the Federal Republic and of Cold War German-American relations.

History After Hitler
A Transatlantic Enterprise

Philipp Stelzel

2018 | 248 pages | Cloth $69.95
History / Political Science
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. German History in the Federal Republic
Chapter 2. German History in the United States
Chapter 3. Encountering America
Chapter 4. Transforming the West German Historical Profession
Chapter 5. In Defense of Intellectual Hegemony


Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]


"Writings on the German problem by German émigrés in England and the United States have often been confusing rather than enlightening. Where it rules without restraint, resentment is not a fertile soil for sober and objective history, and long-term alienation from Germany easily leads to a distorted view of reality." This statement by the German historian Gerhard Ritter in 1949 illustrates how he—and many of his peers—thought about the work of their German émigré colleagues in the United States. Indeed, their suspicion extended beyond the émigrés, as Germans also tended to dismiss American-born historians of Germany as unable to produce "sober and objective" (in Ritter's words) studies on the recent German past. This widespread belief found its way into book reviews as well as personal letters and indicated a defensive German attitude that proved difficult to overcome.

Five decades later, Hans-Ulrich Wehler expressed a very different opinion, yet one that was similarly representative of German historians at the time:

The transatlantic dialogue between American and German historians since the late 1940s is based on the fundamental experiences of the political generations that lived through the Nazi dictatorship, World War II, the postwar years and the founding of the Federal Republic. These common experiences led to close contacts; I am someone who has benefited immensely from them. The generations of Carl Schorske, Leonard Krieger, Hajo Holborn, Arno Mayer, Jim Sheehan, Henry Turner, Gerald Feldman, Charles Maier, and others, have influenced in a lasting way the political generation in Germany to which I belong.
Ritter's and Wehler's claims point to a fundamental transformation, which stands at the center of this book. The decades following World War II witnessed the establishment of a large and diverse German-American scholarly community of modern German history. Several factors fostered its development. First, as a result of both National Socialism and the Cold War, American interest in Germany grew remarkably, which caused a quantitative expansion of the discipline. In addition, a small but increasingly influential cohort of émigré historians researching and teaching in the United States, including Hajo Holborn, Felix Gilbert, Hans Rosenberg, Fritz Stern, and George L. Mosse, served as transatlantic intermediaries. Finally, the strong appeal of American academia to West German historians of different generations, but primarily to those born in the 1930s and 1940s, led many of them to form close ties with their American colleagues. As a result, a German-American community of historians developed that eclipsed other transnational counterparts with respect to the intensity of scholarly interactions.


At the first annual meeting of the Verband der Historiker Deutschlands (German Historians' Association) after World War II, on September 12, 1949, Gerhard Ritter outlined the "present situation and future tasks of the German historical profession." Oscillating between assertiveness and defensiveness, Ritter conceded that German historians had previously focused too much on political history and the history of ideas and that a closer cooperation with the social sciences was the new order of the day. In addition, while "truly great statesmen" such as Frederick the Great and Otto von Bismarck now more than ever should serve the purpose of fostering German self-confidence, German historians at the same time had to eschew the blatant apologia characterizing much of post-World War I scholarship.

In retrospect, it is obvious that the West German historical profession as a whole did not achieve many of these ambitious aims during the next two decades. Traditional political history still dominated, and the West German historians' willingness to reexamine their interpretive and methodological assumptions remained limited. Nevertheless, the discipline of the 1950s registered a few new impulses—for example, from the institutional establishment of contemporary history (Zeitgeschichte), initially defined as the period 1917-1945 with a focus on National Socialism. Despite his own ideological proximity to National Socialism prior to his emigration to the United States, Hans Rothfels became a crucial figure in the development of Zeitgeschichte in West Germany after his return. The conservative politics of leading figures like Rothfels influenced the studies produced at places such as the newly founded Institut für Zeitgeschichte as well as at most West German universities. Thus, while Rothfels, for example, insisted on the moral legitimacy of resistance to National Socialism—which many contemporary Germans still viewed as treason—in his publications of the late 1940s, he also emphasized the degree to which Germans had been victims rather than supporters of the regime.

Another shift occurred with respect to the historical profession's religious makeup. In a discipline that had historically been dominated by Protestants, Catholic scholars now attempted to promote a counter-narrative to the Protestant master narrative of modern German history. This narrative had comprised a Prussia-centric focus on the German Empire, at the expense of the southern and southwestern states. French and German efforts to strengthen pro-European and pro-Catholic forces within West German historiography led to the foundation of the Institut für Europäische Geschichte in Mainz in 1950. While these developments somewhat broadened the topical scope of West German historiography and modified some interpretations, they did not contribute decisively to a methodological renewal of the profession.

At the same time, Ludwig Dehio, the first postwar editor of the profession's leading journal, Historische Zeitschrift, also embarked on a cautiously reformist course. Yet the resistance he encountered revealed the limited degree to which the West German historical profession was willing to reconsider its interpretive and methodological foundations in traditional political history. All in all, Ernst Schulin's assessment of a "politically and morally tamed historicism"—in the sense that historians were now supposed to show a greater degree of moral and political responsibility while remaining "neutral" vis-à-vis historical phenomena—that dominated West German historiography during the first two postwar decades is still accurate.

With only a few exceptions, it was conservative historians who shaped the West German historical profession. Jerry Muller's dictum regarding the postwar "deradicalization" of West German conservatism, from compromising with or even embracing National Socialism to accepting liberal democracy and a pluralistic society, aptly describes the transformation of some of the most influential historians. Beginning in the late 1950s, "deradicalized" conservatives such as Theodor Schieder, Karl Dietrich Erdmann, and Werner Conze became the West German discipline's leading figures. All of them had supported the Nazi regime through their writings, and all of them managed to cover the brown spots in their biographies throughout their long and successful careers in the Federal Republic. For decades after 1945, these historians edited the profession's main journals—Schieder at Historische Zeitschrift (1959-1984), Erdmann at Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht (1950-1989)—or coordinated large-scale research, as did Werner Conze at the University of Heidelberg. Erdmann, Schieder, and Conze successively served as chairmen of the Verband der Historiker Deutschlands between 1962 and 1976. Conze and especially Schieder trained a large number of historians who later had distinguished careers themselves. For his part, Conze was a cautious methodological modernizer; during the 1950s he began to develop his project of Strukturgeschichte (structural history), which signaled a methodological departure from much of the previous historiography.

In some ways, then, historiographical developments of the 1950s resembled developments in West German society at large. Most historians of the Federal Republic now argue that in many areas of society, liberalization processes began slowly during the later 1950s rather than in the 1960s, or more specifically, in 1968. But they also acknowledge that during the 1960s these processes accelerated and took on a new quality. Similarly, it was not until the early 1970s that the West German historical profession significantly advanced toward the reorientation Ritter had set as a goal in 1949, the historiographical changes of the late 1940s and 1950s notwithstanding.

The assessment of West German historians' interpretive shift—from "apologia" to "revisionism"—largely depends on the observer's own position. Less controversial is the view that the methodological changes Ritter had demanded soon after the war did not take place until the 1960s. It was another generation of historians, born between the late 1920s and early 1940s, that carried out this task. Many of them maintained close relationships with American historians of modern Germany. Just as historians emphasize the role of the United States in the democratization process of the West German society, they also credit American scholars of German history for having made decisive contributions to the historiographical renewal, as Wehler emphasized with regard to the importance of the "transatlantic dialogue."

Indeed, Hans-Ulrich Wehler's career exemplifies the development and intensity of this transatlantic dialogue very well: Wehler first came to the United States as a Fulbright student in 1952, when he spent a year at Ohio University. Ten years later, after completing his PhD at the University of Cologne, he returned with funding from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) to conduct research at Stanford University and at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., for a study of American imperialism. In California he met the cultural historian Carl Schorske and, more importantly, the émigré social historian Hans Rosenberg, who would become a major influence on Wehler and many other historians of his generation. Through Rosenberg, Wehler even received a job offer from the University of California at Berkeley in 1963, which he declined. He did, however, repeatedly return to the United States, as a visiting professor at Harvard (1972 and 1989), Princeton (1976), and Stanford (1983-1984). Finally, in 2000, the American Historical Association (AHA) awarded Wehler its honorary foreign membership.

After almost complete silence during the Nazi years, scholarly contacts and cooperation between the two countries intensified, and for many German historians of Wehler's generation the United States became an attractive destination. Participating in student exchange programs and, later in their careers, holding visiting appointments at American universities became increasingly desirable. Ultimately, in the field of modern German history, West German historians developed closer ties with their American colleagues than with scholars of any other country. The resulting intellectual dialogue between American and West German historians was fundamentally shaped by the events and processes Wehler emphasized, in particular the legacy of National Socialism and postwar political challenges. Yet the different generations involved in this dialogue contributed to and benefited from what Wehler called these "fundamental experiences" in a multitude of ways.

Shortly after the end of World War II, many American scholars had wondered if their German colleagues would overcome the nationalism and intellectual isolation that had characterized the German historical profession since 1933 if not since 1918. Already in 1941, Oscar J. Hammen had concluded in his analysis of German historiography of the interwar years that "the obvious rejection of 'western' ideas and institutions, the 'revision' of the liberal historiography of the nineteenth century by German historians since 1933, are but the intensification of tendencies which already were pronounced before the advent of the Nazi regime." Not surprisingly, then, American historians followed with great interest the first attempts of their German contemporaries to explain the rise of National Socialism.

In the Americans' view, some German historians did better than others: Friedrich Meinecke's 1946 essay Die deutsche Katastrophe, one of the first attempts to explain the origins of National Socialism, garnered a generally favorable reception, and its author was awarded the AHA's honorary foreign membership for his distinguished career in the following year. Even so, Meinecke was not perceived as the typical representative of the German historical profession. That role was to remain with Gerhard Ritter, the first postwar chairman of the West German Historians' Association and a very active public intellectual. Ritter's attitude toward National Socialism had been ambivalent, but he had been imprisoned after Stauffenberg's failed plot against Hitler in July 1944, because of a loose association with the Goerdeler resistance circle. After the end of the war Ritter was determined to prove that National Socialism had been a decisive break with all German traditions, and not an integral part—let alone the logical culmination—of modern German history. His rather blatant apologia—he termed National Socialism "not an authentic Prussian plant, but an Austrian-Bavarian import"—triggered considerable criticism among American historians. In the American Historical Review, Felix Gilbert objected to the "rather nationalistic bias in Ritter's tendency to excuse dangerous and deplorable German developments and even to consider them justified if somewhat similar developments have occurred in other countries."

Fifteen years later, American scholars of modern Germany assumed a significant role in a controversy that not only upset the West German historical profession but also generated an extraordinary public debate and prompted even the Bundestag to address the issue. In 1961 Fritz Fischer published his groundbreaking study on the German Empire's war aims during the First World War, Griff nach der Weltmacht. In this book, Fischer pointed to continuities between Germany's war aims in both world wars and argued that the German Empire bore a considerable part of the responsibility for the outbreak of the First World War. Having touched a historiographical and political nerve, Fischer faced a strong headwind from his German colleagues, who initially contented themselves with attacking him in scholarly journals. They then resorted to sabotaging Fischer's lecture tour to several American universities that had been planned for the spring of 1964 by convincing the German Foreign Office (which was supposed to fund Fischer's trip) that it was not in West Germany's "national interest" for Fischer to present his views abroad. Several American historians published an open letter in the German weekly Die Zeit condemning the cancellation. They then secured sufficient financial means through the ACLS to invite Fischer to lecture in the United States. Eventually Fritz Stern supported Fischer at a panel discussion at the German Historikertag (the biannual convention of the German Historians Association) in 1964, where he stressed the need to examine continuities in modern German history.

These examples suggest that the rethinking of modern German history in the postwar decades had become a transatlantic enterprise. After World War II, German scholars slowly began to realize that they could not ignore American—as well as other foreign—views on their past. German history did not exclusively belong to German historians anymore. In addition, both their reactions to Gerhard Ritter's apologetic writings in the late 1940s and their support for Fritz Fischer in the mid-1960s suggest that American historians of modern Germany generally favored critical interpretations of German history. It should not be surprising, then, that historians have told the story of post-1945 German-American historiographical relations as a story of West Germans proceeding, with steady American help, on their "long way West." While this narrative certainly covers many aspects of the scholarly community's development, the postwar historiographical story is more complicated. Even the Fischer controversy (Fischer-Kontroverse), usually the prime example of the transatlantic fight for the good historiographical cause, unfolded in a more complex manner: writing to Hans Herzfeld several weeks after Fischer's United States lecture tour, Hans Rosenberg offered a candid—and devastating—assessment: "Fischer's appearance here [at Berkeley], as I indicated already, turned out to be a great intellectual and scholarly disappointment [eine große geistig-wissenschaftliche Enttäuschung]. Had the German Foreign Office not tried to silence him, he would have encountered strong criticism over here. But given the political background we all turned a blind eye on his assumptions and at times sloppy methods, even though we by no means endorse them." This example suggests that American support for German iconoclasts was not necessarily unconditional. A comprehensive and more convincing account of the transatlantic community of scholars therefore needs to move beyond a simplistic interpretation that sees American and progressive German historians working steadily toward the same goal. In following pages, I trace this story from the early postwar years up to the 1980s.

Through the transatlantic scholarly community of German history, several generations of German historians developed, or in some cases, resumed close ties with their American colleagues. To name but a few, Gerhard Ritter (born 1888) repeatedly spent time in the United States, as did Fritz Fischer (born 1908). In the spring term of 1960, Walther Hubatsch (born 1915) taught at the University of Kansas. However, as Hans-Ulrich Wehler's (born 1931) statement suggested, the American scholarly community of modern German history became a particularly important source of inspiration for historians of his generation. These scholars, born between ca. 1930 and 1940, encountered the United States relatively early in their careers, either as students or as postdoctoral fellows. Historians of this generation have shaped the West German historical profession for several decades since the late 1960s. In addition, most of these scholars also saw themselves as public intellectuals and therefore frequently left the ivory tower to participate in controversial political debates, from the signing of the Ostverträge in the early 1970s to the possible entry of Turkey into the European Union in the early twenty-first century.

From a historiographical perspective, the main accomplishment of this generation was to suggest an alternative to the "German conception of history," as Georg Iggers titled his pioneering work on German historicism. While German historians of Wehler's generation followed different trajectories in their pursuit of "history beyond historicism" the project most closely associated with American academia was the so-called Bielefeld school (Bielefelder Schule) of historical social science (Historische Sozialwissenschaft). This historical school went furthest in its repudiation of both the interpretive and the methodological traditions of German historiography, and its protagonists claimed to develop their alternative in a close dialogue with their American colleagues. The focus on these West German social historians thus provides an opportunity to analyze the prevailing assumptions about the transatlantic scholarly community in greater detail.

Ultimately, then, this book offers a history of the transatlantic scholarly community of modern German history in the four decades after the Second World War and simultaneously contributes to the historicizing of the Bielefeld school as an important development within West German historiography. Both the transatlantic links of West German historians and the Bielefeld school of historical social science are key issues in postwar German historiography, and both have thus far largely escaped historians' attention. By analyzing the Bielefeld school and the transatlantic scholarly community in connection, the study adds a transnational dimension to the flourishing field of the history of the West German historical profession.


Accounts of the field of German history in the United States, usually essays and articles rather than monographs, are still scarce. In addition, some of these historiographical surveys examine European history in general rather than German history in particular. Several articles have analyzed specific aspects of the field of German history or outlined its development as a whole, but they have relied on monographs and articles exclusively and have not considered archival sources. Generally, a consensus exists that American scholarly interest in modern European and especially modern German history increased considerably because "the collapse of democracy and the abandonment of liberalism certainly was the major historical theme for American historians during the decades after 1945." This growing attention manifested itself institutionally: as Kenneth Barkin has stated, "The three decades following World War II witnessed the solid establishment of German history as a critical part of the curriculum of every major American university."

While the increasing interest in Germany's past led to a quantitative extension of the field of German history, a number of émigré historians helped strengthen its quality. Prior to the Second World War, scholars such as Bernadotte Schmitt, Sidney Fay, and William Langer had already proven the level of distinction of American scholars of German history. In addition, the debate about the outbreak and the course of World War I revealed that American historiography on modern Germany comprised a variety of interpretations. But émigré historians who arrived in the United States mostly during the 1930s added new perspectives.

On the one hand, a number of first-generation émigrés, who had received their academic training in Germany, left their mark on the American historical profession. These émigrés, many of whom had been students of Friedrich Meinecke at the University of Berlin in the 1920s, included Hans Rothfels, Gerhard Masur, Dietrich Gerhard, Hajo Holborn, Felix Gilbert, and Hans Rosenberg. Holborn, Gilbert, and Rosenberg in particular became influential as both scholars and teachers, as numerous recollections attest. With the exception of Rothfels and Masur, this first generation of émigrés generally appears politically liberal and thus in favor of a thorough revision of the historiography on modern Germany. Such an evaluation, however, does not do full justice to these individuals who had different ideas regarding this revision's ideal extent and character.

On the other hand, already in the early 1950s the second generation of émigré historians had begun their careers. Scholars such as George Mosse, Klaus Epstein, Peter Gay, Fritz Stern, Gerhard Weinberg, and Georg Iggers had been born in Germany (or like Raul Hilberg and Theodore Hamerow in Austria and Poland, respectively) but received their academic training in the United States. Several have published memoirs, and more recently they also have received scholarly scrutiny. Steven Aschheim has portrayed Mosse, Stern, Gay, and Walter Laqueur as a group with distinctive autobiographical characteristics, which, he argues, explain the brand of intellectual and cultural history they later developed. While this book follows Aschheim's interpretation of these historians' intellectual development, it offers a more comprehensive assessment of that generation of émigrés, which comprised scholars of very different methodological orientations.

Linked to the trajectory of the field of German history in the United States is the development of the German-American scholarly community after the Second World War. Reflecting on a century of German history in the United States in 1984, Fritz Stern described the intellectual relations between American and German historians during this period as moving "from dependency through a kind of academic emancipation and political antagonism to equality and collaboration." By and large, one can hardly dispute Stern's view of the development after 1945. For the 1930s and early 1940s, however, John L. Harvey has recently suggested a much greater affinity between many American historians of Europe (not only Germany) and their German colleagues favoring the Nationalist or even National Socialist Right. But even Harvey concedes that the 1950s marked a watershed, when a new generation of American scholars of German history assumed their positions. Building upon these older and more recent views, my study assesses the degree to which the writing of modern German history indeed became a common transatlantic project.

This very emphasis on the writing, or rather the rewriting, of modern German history as a common transatlantic enterprise, especially beginning in the 1960s, has in recent years almost become a cliché. As Ernst Schulin put it succinctly, "Anglo-American critical interest in German history influenced and assisted in the modernization of West German historical writing." Virtually every single account of postwar German-American historiography echoes this point of view. However, a comprehensive analysis of this subject reveals a more complex picture. In his study on the intellectual exchange between American and European social reformers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Daniel T. Rodgers has identified "perception, misperception, translation, transformation, cooptation, preemption, and contestation" as its defining features. All of these practices characterized the field of post-1945 German-American historiography as well.

In recent years, historians have published extensively on the first decade and a half of post-1945 West German historiography. Several influential historians have found their biographers, while other studies have taken a broader view and focused on historical schools or particular trends within the entire profession. Even though these studies differ significantly in their focus on methodological, interpretive, and political aspects as well as in their evaluations, they have provided a fairly nuanced picture of the immediate postwar West German historical profession. Winfried Schulze's account of West German historiography during the first postwar decade and a half, published in 1989, set the tone: after some initial attempts to reconsider their methodological and interpretive assumptions, the overwhelming majority of West German historians during the 1950s returned to traditional political history, and the initial calls for a "revision of the German conception of history" soon receded.

By contrast, the 1960s and 1970s have thus far not received appropriate attention, and therefore this study's emphasis lies on these decades. Given the significant quantitative changes taking place within the historical profession during that time, this lack of attention is highly surprising: between 1960 and 1975, the number of professorships in West Germany quadrupled, and the number of Assistenten (nontenured research associates) grew by a factor of six. In addition, since the 1960s generally figure as the decade during which the West German historians overcame—or at least began to overcome—the parochialism of the immediate postwar years, it is high time to historicize this period. After all, political, economic, and cultural historians have long shifted their attention to the Federal Republic during the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond.

Most of the historiographical texts on the 1960s are either contributions by historians who were involved in the fierce debates of the 1970s, or later attempts at (self-)historicizing by the same scholars. Interpretively, the controversies have centered on the evaluation of the German Empire and its historical links with Nazi Germany—the notorious "continuities in German history." Methodologically, historians have argued about the advantages and disadvantages of history's connection with the social sciences, as well as the question of whether or not diplomatic history should constitute a subfield of an all-encompassing "history of society" (Gesellschaftsgeschichte). While Hans-Ulrich Wehler has been the most vocal proponent of the latter, he has of course not been the only one. Jürgen Kocka's programmatic volume, Sozialgeschichte, belongs in the same category, as do a number of articles by scholars who are part of the same age cohort but were not partisans of the Bielefeld school. Finally, the debate's political dimension revolved around the validity of "critical historiography," which the Bielefeld school's protagonists emphasized and which their opponents rejected at least as adamantly. Building upon not only the protagonists' works but also institutional and personal papers, this book provides the first in-depth analysis of this story's various dimensions.

Social, economic, cultural, and intellectual contacts between the United States and Europe in the twentieth century, and in particular after 1945, have received increasing attention during the last two decades, resulting in a growing body of scholarship on Westernization and Americanization. A study on a German-American community of historians between the 1940s and the 1980s has to be situated within this context. Historians have understood Westernization as a process of intercultural transfer between Europe and the United States that began in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Westernization has at times meant phases of European influence on the United States, and at other times phases of American influence on Europe. Anselm Doering-Manteuffel has defined Westernization as the "development of common values in societies on both sides of the North Atlantic." By contrast, Americanization usually refers to a process in which non-American countries and societies are at the receiving end, without in turn influencing the Unites States. This is true despite the fact that the process is often understood as taking place as selective appropriation. In the most general sense, the West German historical profession thus certainly underwent a Westernization process rather than an Americanization process. German émigrés had a considerable impact on the American field of German history, and German historians became increasingly receptive to developments within the American historical profession. Yet the Americanization concept can still be useful for this study, if one follows Rob Kroes, who defines the term as "a shorthand reference to what is essentially a black box in the simple diagram of cultural transmission and reception," where a process of mediation serves to reorder and even remake whatever comes in from the United States. As we will see, West German historians' ideas of the United States and the American historical profession often differed greatly from one another—at least in part as a result of the pluralized character of the American field. And as in the realm of popular culture, selective appropriation also took place within the scholarly community. Finally, one should mention that in the context of the Americanization debates the term has often connoted allegedly lamentable developments in Europe and elsewhere. In the literature on West German historiography, by contrast, historians have discussed Americanization or American influences in decidedly positive terms.

National differences are necessarily a part of this history of the historical profession. More than three decades ago, the Norwegian social scientist Johan Galtung reflected on specific national academic styles and contrasted the "Saxonic," the "Teutonic," the "Gallic," and the "Nipponic" intellectual styles. Among other elements, Galtung distinguished between the rather conversational style of debate in Anglo-American academia and the more contentious style of debate within its German counterpart. Of course, such distinctions should be taken with at least a grain of salt. But it is important to ask not only what lay at the heart of a particular scholarly controversy but how these debates were carried out—especially in a study that transcends national borders.

Since this study focuses equally on the intellectual and social processes constituting historiography, it also combines quantitative and qualitative dimensions. On the one hand, any comprehensive analysis of a historiographical field requires a degree of statistical coverage. For example, one can judge the interest in a particular topic or period or the prominence of certain methodological trends by the number of articles that were published in scholarly journals, and by the number of monographs that appeared. Yet such an analysis also has to consider who edited journals and reviewed books for publication and thus their influence on, or even control over, what was published. Here, considerations of "quality" (itself a problematic category) were not always decisive. While a comprehensive evaluation of journals and publishers' lists forms the basis of the study's quantitative aspect, historians' personal papers are indispensable for a "behind-the-scenes" look at the professional power structures. While nobody would deny the impact of these structures, influential scholars in particular are often unwilling to acknowledge them, as the admission would contradict the ideals of objectivity and meritocracy.

My analysis of both the post-1945 German-American scholarly community and the controversial developments within the German historical profession in the late 1960s and 1970s considers their interpretive as well as methodological, institutional, and political dimensions, which of course overlap in various ways.

Regarding the institutional dimension, I have examined the papers of the American Historical Association (AHA) and of its German counterpart, the Verband der Historiker Deutschlands (VHD). Apart from covering matters pertaining to its organization, the AHA papers at the Library of Congress also contain some editorial files of the American Historical Review. For the latter's German equivalent, Historische Zeitschrift, the personal papers of its long-term editor Theodor Schieder (who held that position between 1957 and 1984) have proven enormously valuable. Since Schieder also served as chairman of the Verband der Historiker Deutschlands, his papers shed light on the association's development as well.

For both the methodological and the interpretive dimensions, I rely primarily on the body of work produced by historians in the German-American scholarly community. An analysis of the leading German and American journals illustrates prevailing trends at a given time. But again, historians' personal papers supply important additional information. The tendency to discuss interpretive and methodological questions in letters overall might have declined after the 1950s, when the phone became the more immediate means of scholarly exchange. George Mosse, for example, preferred to call rather than to write to his colleagues, and his papers accordingly contain less of relevance to this project. And yet, one finds counterexamples even in the mid-1970s, and these have been very illuminating.

The bulk of the personal papers of German historians on which this analysis draws are located at the Bundesarchiv Koblenz. It would have been impossible to analyze the papers of all historians belonging to the German-American scholarly community. Some have not left any personal papers, and the existing collections are extremely scattered. Yet the historians whose papers I have evaluated belonged to different generations and held widely varying methodological and political views. Thus, this study draws on the personal papers of a fairly representative sample of historians, and is therefore able to provide plausible conclusions about a broad range of questions in German history, even if a synthetical history of the field remains elusive. The primary focus is on the West German historical profession's transatlantic dimension. Yet by analyzing the project of Historische Sozialwissenschaft as well as its critics, this study extends and refines our understanding of the West German historical profession during the 1960s and 1970s.

It should not be surprising—and will become evident in the following chapters—that interpreting modern German history after National Socialism was a politically fraught enterprise and that many academics felt a responsibility to contribute to debates beyond academia. The political designations of these historians used in the following pages are mine, unless explicitly noted otherwise. By contrast, terms such as "modern" or "progressive" to denote certain methodologies and approaches are those used by the contemporaries and do not reflect my own views, as I do not believe it is possible, for example, to label social history more "modern" than political or cultural history.

Finally, a note on the erkenntnisleitende Interessen (the knowledge-guiding interests) of this study is in order: The writing of historiographical texts in order to legitimize a new approach is an inherently problematic undertaking, and as we will see, this was as true for the protagonists of the Bielefeld school as it has been for their contemporary and later critics. This book therefore does not provide an ex-post-facto contribution to the debate between protagonists of Historische Sozialwissenschaft and their opponents among the diplomatic and political historians. Neither does it constitute a belated contribution to the German Methodenstreit (method dispute) between social historians and cultural historians. Finally, even though historians generally distinguish between affirmative and critical historiography, my analysis attempts to provide both. On the one hand, I illustrate how much the postwar transatlantic community has contributed to the historiography on modern Germany. On the other hand, this sympathetic view of many members of this scholarly community is compatible with its critical historicization. After all, as Allan Megill has emphasized, "the true historian needs to be committed to both objectivity and commitment, because 'discernment of multiple perspectives is a condition of understanding human affairs,' and thus is 'also a prerequisite of attaining reliable historical knowledge.'"


The book begins with an outline of the West German historical profession's development after 1945 from a transatlantic perspective. During the immediate postwar years, American scholars (including émigré historians) often objected to apologetic tendencies among their West German colleagues and generally demanded a reevaluation of modern German history. Yet at the same time, they were open to forming scholarly ties with almost all German historians, not just those with—in their view—impeccable political credentials. Conversely, German historians of all political and methodological brands—not just the most liberal-minded—attempted to establish, or reestablish, relations with American colleagues. As the Cold War constituted the primary cause for the integration of West Germany into the Western bloc, it also shaped the country's historical profession. Accordingly, West German historians realized that, in contrast to the interwar years, intellectual isolation was no longer feasible. While one cannot simply speak of the West German historians' "Westernization"—or even "Americanization"—after 1945, American perceptions of German historiography began to matter more to West Germans than ever before.

The second chapter moves across the Atlantic. It outlines the field of modern German history in the United States, which was changing in two significant ways during the postwar years. On the one hand, it expanded quantitatively. Not only did the overall number of professorships increase, but German history also received more attention than before, since the rise of National Socialism demanded explanation. On the other hand, the professoriate underwent a transformation: émigré scholars helped internationalize the field, and American scholars from different ethnic and social backgrounds were able to enter the profession. This chapter therefore explores how these changes affected the way modern German history was written in the United States. It focuses on scholars such as Hajo Holborn, Gordon Craig, Hans Rosenberg, Fritz Stern, and George Mosse, who produced widely read studies on modern Germany, who trained future generations of historians, who wrote reviews in academic journals, and who came to represent the American historical profession in the eyes of West German historians.

As the field of German history in the United States expanded, West German historians of all age cohorts came into contact with the American historical profession. Accordingly, the third chapter analyzes how exactly these encounters unfolded. Established scholars sometimes reactivated their prewar contacts with American colleagues or sometimes ventured into unknown territory. A number of scholars, such as Fritz Fischer, participated in faculty exchange programs, sponsored by those American organizations that explicitly or implicitly wanted to familiarize German academics with "Western" approaches. This chapter explores whether and how these older scholars were influenced by their contacts with American academia and the United States more generally. Individuals such as Gerhard Ritter and Karl Dietrich Erdmann did not always show the openness so characteristic of the younger generation and sometimes went to the United States in order to promote certain views on German history. Apart from the established scholars, a number of young German historians, including Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Volker R. Berghahn, and Jürgen Kocka, encountered the American historical profession, as well as related fields, as students in the 1950s and 1960s. They have since, without exception, emphasized how formative these experiences were, and have maintained close relationships with American colleagues throughout their careers. The analysis therefore explores the degree to which the Germans were influenced methodologically and interpretively by their early contacts with American academia.

The fourth chapter returns to the Federal Republic to examine the historiographical developments of the 1960s and early 1970s from a transatlantic perspective. Many German historians perceived this period as one of acute crisis, because the social sciences seemed to threaten Clio's role as an academic discipline with a significant role in public debates. Even worse, the importance of history as a high school subject came into question as educational reformers attempted to integrate it into a more comprehensive social studies course. However, the sense of decline was also a result of dramatic changes within the field. Some historians strongly objected to the methodological reforms that younger scholars in particular proposed. Focusing on the rise of the Bielefeld school and its project of historical social science, the chapter explores the extent to which these reforms took place in a transatlantic context, and argues that American historians of modern Germany were attentive observers rather than active participants or sources of inspiration. The analysis proceeds along three dimensions: interpretively, the fierce debates revolved around the question of whether Germany had followed a "special path" (Sonderweg), marked by economic modernity and political backwardness, in comparison with Great Britain and France. Methodologically, proponents of historical social science argued, against more traditional political and diplomatic historians, for a greater interdisciplinary orientation of the profession, which should ultimately lead to the integration of political history into an all-encompassing social history or history of society. The political dimension concerns the realm of academic politics of that period. The analysis reveals how the protagonists of historical social science successfully established themselves within the profession, and how German "traditionalist" historians responded to the iconoclasts' challenge. Yet it also takes a broader perspective and examines both sides' respective ideas about the historian's role in society. This debate revolved around the question of whether scholars should provide their readers with "affirmative" or rather "critical" histories and touches upon the issue of the historian as a public intellectual.

The fifth and final chapter again approaches the West German historical profession from a transatlantic perspective. By the mid- to late 1970s, the Bielefeld school had asserted itself institutionally and interpretively within the field. Now part of the academic establishment, the Bielefelders in turn came under attack from new, oppositional historiographical groups such as British neo-Marxists, West German historians of everyday life (Alltagshistoriker), and West German women's historians, who emphasized historical social science's blind spots and challenged the Bielefelders' claim to represent the most progressive historiographical movement. In addition, American historians now questioned some of the Bielefelders' interpretations. While the notorious "Historians' debate" (about the singularity of National Socialism and the Holocaust) of the 1980s appeared to restore a transatlantic progressive historiographical alliance, this episode constituted only part of a bigger, more variegated picture.

Ultimately, the decades under review in this book witnessed the establishment and consolidation of a large and diverse German-American scholarly community in which the national background of the participants became less important. The creation of a continuous transatlantic conversation, which developed more and more into a transnational conversation, unquestionably constitutes an impressive achievement. My study traces the twists and turns of this dialogue during the existence of West Germany and emphasizes the benefits for both American and German historians—even as they have also maintained their own institutional and professional affiliations within their own national cultures.

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